When he walked into Florida’s indoor practice facility last week, the normally outspoken Chauncey Gardner was quiet.
Gardner, heading into his sophomore year, is a versatile defensive back.
He can play outside corner, nickel and safety.
And he’s usually a talker filled with energy.
“Must have been having an off day,” UF coach Jim McElwain said a few days later.
Defensive backs coach Corey Bell added: “He’s a confident player, no doubt.”
McElwain and the Gators are hoping Gardner doesn’t have many off days on the field as he moves from a freshman reserve and special teams ace to helping replace three starters in Florida’s defensive backfield.
Gardner showed his potential late last season, starting the last three games at safety due to injuries to Marcus Maye and Nick Washington.
He recorded an interception early against Florida State in his first career start and then recorded two more (including one returned for a touchdown) in the Outback Bowl against Iowa to close out the season.
“They see we go [with] somebody back there who can do it,” Gardner said. “So they’re trusting me and I’m trusting them. That’s why I’m putting my process and working and getting everything better so I can help my teammates and get better.”
He and the rest of the defensive backs will need to get better quickly. The Gators lost three secondary starters from last year in Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Maye. Duke Dawson, Florida’s primary nickel corner last season, is moving outside to take over one of those spots. Gardner is holding down the second spot this spring due to lack of depth, but he could potentially move back inside or back to safety once the five freshman defensive backs arrive in Gainesville this summer.
“As long as he’s on the field,” Bell said, “we’re a better football team.”
DEFENSIVE BACKS ROOM
Key returners: Duke Dawson, Chauncey Gardner, Marcell Harris, Nick Washington, Joseph Putu
Key losses: Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson
Key additions: Shawn Davis, Brian Edwards, Brad Stewart, CJ Henderson, Marco Wilson
Key stats from 2016: 92.86 QB rating allowed (lowest nationally); 2:1 interception-to-touchdown ratio (No. 1 nationally); 148.5 yards allowed per game (No. 1 in SEC; No. 2 nationally)
Evaluation: The Gators are reloading in the secondary once again. Gone are three of their top playmakers and in come a handful of freshmen who will need to make an immediate impact if “DBU” wants to continue to hold that title. Look for Marcell Harris and Duke Dawson to take on increased leadership roles this season and for a freshman (maybe two) to get starts early.